Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

62 posts from March 2013

Beckmann Testifies Before Congress, Asks for Increased Funding for Nutrition

Khato Rana plays with her daughter Rita, 2, at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in Dhangadhi, Nepal. The facility, run by Nepali NGO RUWDUC (Rural Women's Development Unity Center), restores malnourished children back to health. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

The United States has exhibited great leadership in the areas of global development, food security, and nutrition, but more must be done, said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, during testimony given Tuesday before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State/Foreign Operations.

Beckmann asked the committee to continue its bipartisan support for food security, agriculture, and nutrition—especially in the critical period from the start of a woman’s pregnancy through a child’s second birthday, also known as the 1,000-day window of opportunity. High-level political leadership by the U.S. through initiatives such as Feed the Future, the 1,000 Days Partnership, and Child Survival Call to Action has increased awareness of the importance of maternal and child nutrition around the world, but more importantly, spurred other countries to action. But, Beckmann cautioned that such actions must be accompanied by an increase in funding, as well as important reforms to the U.S. foreign aid system, such as more local procurement, a more efficient food aid system, and greater transparency and accountability. He specifically suggested raising U.S. funding for nutrition from $95 million, in the fiscal year 2013 budget, to $200 million in FY 2014.

“The U.S. government has …encouraged the world to use new knowledge about how best to reduce the carnage of child malnutrition,” he said. “We now have clear evidence, for example, that available dollars should go first to improving nutrition in pregnant women, new mothers, and young children in the critical 1,000-day window of opportunity. This will reduce preventable child deaths and lock in the potential of every child by giving them a good start to life.”

Beckmann’s testimony comes at a time when both a shrinking international affairs budget and the series of across-the-board cuts known as sequestration threaten funding for poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA). Many important international nutrition, food security, development, and humanitarian programs fall under the umbrella of PFDA. These programs build secure, healthy, and productive nations at a fiscal cost of less than one percent of the federal budget.  Beckmann cautioned that the sequester, if not replaced with a more balanced plan, will slash $1.1. billion from PFDA this year alone.

“Some cuts kill,” Beckmann said, before explaining that sequestration will deprive 600,000 malnourished children of life-altering and live-saving nutritional assistance, deny 1 million poor farmers of agricultural assistance, and will stop 5 million people from receiving lifesaving medical interventions.

“As a Christian preacher, allow me to say that our nation’s efforts to help reduce hunger, poverty, and disease around the world are important to Almighty God,” Beckmann said. “I’m convinced that God loves me, all of us, and everybody—including the millions of families around the world who struggle to feed their children.”

Lenten Reflections: Do It Now

'give' photo (c) 2010, Tim Green - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ecclesiastes 11:1-10  
Mark 10:17-31
2 Corinthians 3:7-18

By Phil Hanna

The gospel lesson for today is the familiar story of the rich young ruler (though only Matthew calls him young and only Luke calls him a ruler) who asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life.

Jesus answers that he must observe the commandments.  But he does not list all of them.  He omits the first four, which concern our relation to God, and lists the next five, four of which tell us what not to do to our fellow humans. The one positive commandment—honor your father and mother—he puts last, rather than the first, on this list. He omits the commandment against coveting. Is this because he thought the man was too rich to covet anymore? And he adds to the ten commandments one about not defrauding people. Is this because he knew the man got rich that way?

When the man claims he has followed all of these commandments since his youth, Jesus adds another new one. He tells the man to sell all his many possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.

The man is unwilling to do this. Like most of us, his possessions make him comfortable. Like most of us, he will make a will, and only give away his possessions after he dies.

The call to us to “Do it now!” is too hard for us to follow.

The Teacher in today’s chapter of Ecclesiastes was full of “Do it now!” In verse 1, he tells us to send our bread (that is, give our money) upon the waters (that is, send it out even if we are not sure where it will end up). In verse 2, he tells us to send what we have to as many needy as we can, now, because disaster may prevent us in the future. In verse 3, we should be like the clouds that are full; let our goodness fall as the rain falls. In verse 4, he criticizes those who want to wait for perfect weather before sowing or reaping.  If we always wait for the perfect time to do something, we will never do anything.

There is work for one and all

Do it now, do it now.

Hear the Master to thee call.

Do it now, do it now.

. . .

Can you help an erring one?

Do it now, do it now.

Stay not for “tomorrows sun,”

Do it now, do it now.

M. M. Lightcap  

Phil Hanna is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

Record Day of Advocacy in Kansas and Nebraska

Phone_receiver_flickr

By Zach Schmidt

Last Wednesday, March 13, was a big day for hunger advocates in the Great Plains states. On that “game day” leaders across Kansas and Nebraska scored an impressive, triple-digit number of phone calls to the offices of Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). More than 200 phone calls were logged between the states—an all-time high! And many callers reported having substantive conversations with the senators’ staffers.

The calls targeted a bill recently introduced by Sen. Roberts and cosponsored by Sen. Johanns, the Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act (S.458), which would cut $36 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and result in nearly 1 million recipients losing benefits. Hunger advocates, joined by faith leaders in both states, find this unacceptable, and they let their elected officials know that now is not the time to cut nutrition assistance.

The strong showing on March 13 was a result of leadership and teamwork. A dozen key players, including bishops, pastors, directors and lay leaders, encouraged their contacts and connections to make phone calls. Communication was key: leaders shared updates on whom they had asked to make calls, who had committed to call, and what the callers heard back from the offices of the senators. Each of the leaders got behind this, and they delivered the bulk of the calls. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who made a call and especially to those who led others to call! This was one for the books.

Less than a week later, hunger advocates in Kansas and Nebraska enjoyed another big day. On Monday, March 18, two separate opinion pieces from respected local leaders were posted in the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska’s two largest newspapers. In their own unique way, these leaders voiced their support for SNAP, pointed out the damaging impact of S.458, and urged Sen. Johanns to reject the bill. There hasn’t been enough said about hungry and poor people during these budget debates—not from the mainstream media and not from members of Congress on either side of the aisle. These op-eds—and others like them—help to break this silence.

With these big days of phone calls and op-eds, hunger advocates in Nebraska and Kansas are standing with people in their communities, in their states, and in our nation who stand to lose the most in the budget debates. It is a privilege to work in partnership with them.

Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

What Is Worse Than Cancelled White House Tours?

Interaction_infographic_sequester_1
Infographic courtesy of InterAction

By Nina Keehan

Many Americans have heard that the White House recently cancelled its public tours as a result of budget cuts from the sequester, leaving thousands of eager ticket holders disappointed. This is a bummer—especially if you’re a middle schooler on spring break.

But let's put this in perspective.  While these shuttered tours might get a ton of publicity from the media, they are certainly not the worst the sequester has to offer—not even close.

Some of the cuts will cost lives.

A new infographic produced by InterAction reveals the horrifying impact sequestration will have on people helped by foreign assistance programs worldwide. Poverty-focused development assistance will be cut by 5 percent, if the sequester is allowed to stand. Five percent might not seem like much, until you look at this:

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.

Lenten Reflections: Quiet Words of the Wise

'Lend Me a Hand' photo (c) 2010, Toesmasha - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ecclesiastes 9:11-18
Mark 10: 1-16
1 Corinthians 15:20-26

By Stacey Gagosian

The Ecclesiastes passage spoke the most to me.  It begins with a reminder that read, to me, a bit like “you win some, you lose some,” and that there are no guarantees that winners will always win and losers will always lose.  This can be somewhat encouraging when feeling like the hand you're dealt is always a bust.  Going further into the passage, I could hardly read it without thinking of the current political situation in Washington, D.C. “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one bungler destroys much good.”  This is a very good reminder that we all need to stop shouting and do more listening.  Nonetheless, sometimes I wish the wise would raise their voices just a little bit; then again, probably I am shouting too loudly to hear them.

The other passages acted more to remind me that we are a church reformed and always reforming and that the Bible is a living, breathing document, continually reinterpreted, and not always taken literally. Further, these varying stories all remind us that we must not discount the weak and innocent, and that sometimes it is these very people who can lead us in the right direction. 

Prayer: Dear Lord, we are so grateful to you for sending your son, Jesus Christ, who has made it possible for all to have eternal life.  Help us to embrace his message, his love, and each other in order to discern wisdom.  Help us to use Lent as a time to stop shouting and start listening.  Amen.

Stacey Gagosian is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

Food, Food Everywhere...

'groceries in transit' photo (c) 2006, Matt MacGillivray - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Sarah Godfrey

This weekend, the Washington Post ran a feature story about a Rhode Island town where SNAP is not only keeping families fed, but businesses afloat. In a long piece filled with heartbreaking statistics and anecdotes about the effects of the economic downturn, one detail is especially wrenching—the fact that two of the story's subjects, who are struggling to put food on the table, work in grocery stores.

Rebecka and Jourie Ortiz, a couple living in Woonsocket, R.I., are working hard to feed themselves and their two young daughters. After a period of unemployment—they both lost their jobs to downsizing—they find work in local supermarkets:

They had applied for jobs until finally, late in 2012, they had both been hired for the only work high school graduates were finding in a low-wage recovery: part time at a nearby supermarket, the nicest one in the area, a two-story Stop & Shop across the Massachusetts line.

She made $8 an hour, and he earned $9. She worked days in produce, and he worked nights as a stocker. Their combined monthly income of $1,700 was still near the poverty line, and they still qualified for SNAP.

Hungry and poor people are, more and more, finding themselves in the position of serving and stocking food that is increasingly out of their reach. The number of U.S jobs in food service—which includes grocery store clerks, restaurant staff, and warehouse and field workers—has seen growth during the recession, but wages for those positions has dropped

Last year, the Food Chain Workers Alliance explored that issue in its study "The Hand That Feeds Us." According to the report, "[m]ore than 86 percent of workers reported earning subminimum, poverty, and low wages, resulting in a sad irony: food workers face higher levels of food insecurity, or the inability to afford to eat, than the rest of the U.S. workforce."

Spending all day arranging produce in alluring, glistening towers or bagging up hot, greasy fries only to get home and face an empty cupboard seems an especially harsh injustice. Susan Herman, who is writing about her family's SNAP budget challenge, recently blogged about this exchange with a supermarket employee:

“I wish I got paid enough to afford Girl Scout cookies," said the Raley’s employee when our Brownies tried to sell him cookies at a site sale a few weeks ago. He smiled, then coupled on several more grocery carts to the one he’d wheeled in from the parking lot, and clatter-squeaked back into the store.

“Oh. Hmm,” the girls nodded. Then, remembering their coached response they called to his red-vested back, “Thanks anyway!”

I’m not about to rant about how low-wage workers should be able to afford Girl Scout cookies....You can buy cookies at the store with SNAP benefits, but not Girl Scout cookies.

Still, the Raley’s cart-retriever struck a nerve. He may not actually be living in poverty or even approaching 130 percent of the poverty line–at which point he’d be eligible for SNAP–but many workers do. Why is that?

Federal nutrition programs help low-wage workers feed themselves and their families, but many of them still struggle. The Post article on Woonsocket shows just how difficult it can be for families to put food on the table, even on more than one income. The reporter catches a moment when the family is running low on food—it's the last day of the month and they are rationing to be sure their girls have enough to eat. Jourie turns down a simple snack before starting off on his mile-long walk to Stop & Shop, the food emporium that employs him.

Now [Rebecka] reached into the refrigerator and grabbed two string cheeses for her daughters. Then she reached back for a third.

“Do you want a snack for work?” she asked Jourie, who was getting dressed for his midnight shift.

“Do we have enough?”

“I think so,” she said, handing him the cheese. “But I’m shopping tomorrow.”

“I’ll wait,” he said, handing it back. He stood up and hugged her goodbye.

 

Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.

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Write your members of Congress and urge them to ensure a place at the table for all people by providing adequate funding for programs, such as SNAP, that address hunger and help lift people out of poverty.

40 Days of SNAP: The Best Food for All

Marie_at_farmers_market

Marie Crise is able to use her SNAP benefits to purchase fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables at the Abingdon Farmers Market in Abingdon, Va. Are we doing enough to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious, fresh food? (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog.

By Susan Herman

I’ve been a foodie since the late '90s, when the film Big Night came out, and Alton Brown started his TV show Good Eats. Ivan and I love to host BBQs and theme parties, planning and prepping for days beforehand. Bring on the Inauguration Day clam chowder, the King Cake, the Robert Burns Supper! Most recently I enjoyed a blogger cookie exchange with other local foodies, and really enjoyed myself.

But since taking the SNAP challenge, I’m surprised to feel anger welling up. Anger toward myself and toward my fellow foodies. Here’s why: we have a class bias. We aspire to eat the best food, but how many of us also truly aspire—and take action—for everyone to have access to the best food? Why do we allow such a gap to exist?

By “the best food” I’m not talking about lobster and caviar. I can’t afford and don’t really lust after those things. I’m talking mainly about fresh, local fruits and veggies, preferably those that are grown without chemicals. (Yes, there were a few fruits and vegetables featured in the theme parties I’ve listed above.)

And I’m talking about fish that are responsibly harvested, eggs from chickens that have room to roam (and chicken from chickens that have room to roam), beef and pork from cows and pigs that aren’t treated with hormones and producing swamps of toxic waste.

Stuart Leavenworth, editorial page editor for the Sacramento Bee, questioned in a recent Forum section whether Sacramento is ready to face the challenges of the “Farm to Fork” movement. He contrasted mayor Kevin Johnson’s plans to brand the city as a food destination with the reality that “most consumers purchase the cheapest food available, regardless of season.” Being a food destination will mean that more restaurants are serving locally-sourced foods and that events such as the Foodie Film Fest draw healthy numbers. And this will be a good thing, a positive challenge for Sacramento. But how can we also ensure that low-income people, particularly in this rich agricultural region, can buy and cook that fresh-from-the-farm good stuff?  Many area farmers markets are now able to swipe EBT cards and accept SNAP dollars, but, unfortunately, junk food still usually provides more calories for fewer dollars—and hungry people are often forced to choose quantity over quality.

I just waded through 330 typeset pages of unbridled wonkery—a book called All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America? by Joel Berg (2008, Seven Stories Press), which was recommended to me by a social worker friend. A great read. Toward the end, the author notes that some farm-to-fork advocates assert that increased food prices "are a good thing because they deter people from buying junk food.”

How do you answer that, friends? Is that class bias? Is it helpful?

Susan Herman is an independent editor and coordinates the Northern California chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Lenten Reflections: The Poor Will Always Be With You?

Tohomina_washing_pots
Tohomina Akter washes pots and dishes in a pond near her home on the morning of Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Tuesday, March 19

By Inez Torres Davis

"The poor will always be with you."

These words have bothered me for much of my Christian life.  To me, it infers God’s limits as well as our own. It is possible for us Christians to miss the mark, but is it possible for God to be unable to get us to be inspired enough to end poverty? Of course, these are idle thoughts, not intended to be idolatrous, but reflective of the struggle I have had for decades with the seeming inevitability of  hunger and poverty. The poor will always be with you?

Years ago, while at Bible college, I was inspired as I sat and read this passage. I gained perspective by remembering the edicts:  Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to? What is the context in which these words were said?

Jesus was speaking to Judas.

40-for-1000_logo_blogJudas was the fellow who handled the finances (what finances there were) attached to Jesus and his entourage.  The suggestion may be made that Judas’ desire to overturn Rome and establish the new and improved Kingdom of Israel was as pointed as his ability to make sure cash was available to him for his handling of the expenses. This was likely not a system of economic cooperation he used, so it is legitimate to wonder if Judas would have really given that money to feed the hungry had he been given it.

The poor will always be with you, (Judas).

So, maybe, just maybe, Jesus was not addressing the inevitability of poverty as much as he was describing poverty as it relates to greedy folk? The kind of people who want more, more, more!  More money. More power or control.  People like Judas, who was able to exchange Jesus for some idea of grandeur and thirty pieces of silver.

At least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children, age 5 and under, die each day due to poverty. And the number would be much higher if older children were included in that figure. These dear children “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world.”  Today, 2.6 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation and about 885 million people do not have access to clean water. 

So, the children die from treatable diseases without an anointing. But the money for the ointment that could have been pressed to their skin went somewhere else.  It did not feed their bellies or eliminate their suffering or prepare them for burial, it went elsewhere.  Where did it go? 

The poor will always be with you, (Judas).

Inez Torres Davis is director for justice at Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Replacing Sequester Will Require 'A Snowball Effect'

By Robin Stephenson

“It’s going to take a snowball effect” to replace the sequester, said Bread for the World’s senior policy analyst, Amelia Kegan, during a recent webinar with Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) coalition partners. “There needs to be a political cost where there are proposals that harm poor and vulnerable populations, and we need your help."

DHN members, including the National Council of Churches, NETWORK Lobby, and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), joined Kegan for an informative hourlong webinar last week. The event began with an overview of the sequester, from the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established sequestration, to the present-day reality of what the enacted legislation means for poor and hungry people. 

The reality is bleak. Raechel Banks, Eisendrath legislative assistant at the RAC, ran through the list of consequences that will occur if the 5.1 percent across the board cuts of the sequester are not replaced with a balanced approach. Nationally, approximately 600,000 women and children are expected to lose nutrition assistance through WIC and 100,000 formerly homeless people will lose housing. 

Further complicating, and potentially worsening, the effect of the automatic cuts is the FY14 House-proposed Ryan Budget, which shields defense and balances the budget in ten years on cuts alone—with the majority targeting programs that assist poor and hungry people.

Banks emphasized the need to tell stories at the community level and pointed out that the Coalition on Human Needs has state fact sheets that can be helpful when preparing to speak to members of Congress or write a letter to the editor. Turning the statistics into stories, though, is critical in moving legislators to action.

The importance of turning the issue of the proposed cuts into a public dialogue, versus a political one, was echoed by special guest speakers Darrel Thompson and Bruce King, both senior staffers for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

“I really believe the faith community has an authentic voice that can speak above and beyond the partisan nature on the Hill,” said Thompson. “It's an opportunity to speak about things from compassion— from a human needs perspective.”

King emphasized the importance of local media and its ability to translate broad issues to the community level. “The more you can highlight the local impact of people affected in your community, the more likely to influence Congress,” he said.

The bottom line is this:  whether or not Congress takes action depends on how much they hear from an outraged public. We must demand that the sequester be replaced with a balanced plan that protects poor and vulnerable populations. Consider how you can make noise. We are encouraging Bread for the World members to make their voices heard by making local visits to members of Congress, writing letters to their senators and representatives, and joining the public discussion through writing letters to the editor. Here is a simple guide to assist you.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

Americans Underestimate Our Hunger Problem

'Twin Forks' photo (c) 2005, dvs - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Sarah Godfrey

Americans underestimate the problem of hunger in the United States—even at a time when so many in this country are experiencing it firsthand.

According to a recent public opinion poll from Participant Media, the company behind the documentary A Place at the Table, roughly 61 percent of Americans have, at some point, received assistance from the government or from a food bank or soup kitchen to help feed themselves, and more than 7 in 10 Americans know someone who has struggled to put food on the table. And while 4 out of 5 survey respondents said that they thought food insecurity is a problem in America, the majority of them were unaware of the scope of the problem.

"Most Americans are surprised to hear that there are 50 million suffering from food insecurity in America," according to "Food Insecurity in America: U.S. Public Opinion About Solving Hunger and Obesity." On average, those polled thought the number to be around 19 million.

In a Takepart.com piece about the poll that ran last week, writer Allan MacDonnell wrote that the most outstanding finding that this data brings to light is that "[w]e haven’t summoned the will to feed the people who live here."

Americans definitely want to work to address hunger, though. The report found that more than 90 percent of Americans have previously made a food donation, either physical or monetary, to help those in need, but less than a quarter of those polled said they'd be willing to call their congressional representative to advocate for policies to end hunger in America—even though the vast majority of food for the hungry comes from federal programs. Considering ongoing federal budget negotiations that place key anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs at risk, that attitude toward advocacy must change—and fast.

Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.

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Write your members of Congress and urge them to ensure a place at the table for all people by providing adequate funding for programs that address hunger and help lift people out of poverty. Then take to social media and tell your friends and family to follow your lead!

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